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On a riverbank in early spring, the hints of greenery were swaying in the cold morning breeze, and a number of high school students were chatting as they walked by, wearing uniforms with bright blue blazers and orange coats over them. This was the standard route to New Amanogawa Academy High.
Just then, a boy and a girl dashed in at full speed, startling the nearby students and causing them to back away. They seemed to be a delinquent boy with a pompadour and the wrong uniform, and a female student with long hair fluttering in the wind.
“Ahhhhhhhhh, full throttle~”
Actually, looking closer revealed it was a trio. A brown-haired Ama High student was chasing after them.
“Waaaaaaaaaait, why meeeeeeeeeeee…!”
The brown-haired boy rushed past the other students while they backed away, finally caught up to the other two, and grabbed their collars, stopping them in their tracks.
“Guh — “
“Gweh — “
The two fell right over.
“Guys, can you seriously stop running to school in the morning like this?!”
The brown-haired boy who was scolding them was named Kengo Utahoshi, and he was a third-year student at the school.
“But Kengo, doing this puts you in a better mood all day!” said the girl as she stood up, with a dazzling smile.
Her name was Yuuki Joujima. Her slightly short-cut thigh socks were about as conspicuous as her smile.
“Yeah, yeah! If you run as fast as you can and scream at the top of your lungs, it’s like the turbo engine of youth!” yelled the boy in a pompadour.
He was wearing the wrong uniform with the shirt cut short, and had an outdated stock delinquent look to him. He was holding a bag that was even thinner than a textbook, so his attitude towards his studies was obvious. But the word “friendship” was stitched there with a flame pattern, so his philosophy of life was equally as obvious.
His name was Gentarou Kisaragi.
“Yeah, you’ve told me that a million times already. I’ll pass,” said Kengo, cutting Gentarou off with a straight face. “Kengo” and “cool-headed” were practically synonyms.
Yuuki took a deep breath, taking the spring air into her lungs.
“Hey, we’re graduating soon. The cherry blossoms are about to bloom. It’s like the trees are going ‘ah, I want to send off our graduates with the cherry blossoms in full bloom’…” She was completely in a reverie. “‘You Ama High kids be full-fledged members of society soon, so work hard and do your best. Don’t lose faith! The fully-bloomed cherry blossoms will be my cheers to you, like the starry sky. Cheers!'”
Having finished speaking for the cherry blossom trees, she turned around as if switching roles in a play.
“Thank you, cherry blossoms from the riverbank near Amanogawa Academy High! We’ll do our best. We’ll take off and fly. We’ll go and see JAXA’s1 new Epsilon rocket model. Right, Mr. Hayabusa?”
After thanking the cherry blossoms, Yuuki was now addressing a handmade puppet. In worldly terms, she was what people would call a strange girl. She was the kind of space nerd who would lose track of herself and get caught up in raving about space, and would often say eccentric words and do eccentric things to the extent that even the most level-headed person would call her eccentric. Appearance-wise, she was quite a pretty girl, but she herself wasn’t particularly aware of it.
“Three more days, and then we won’t get to see Yuuki’s little theatre skits on the way to school anymore, huh?”
Kengo’s words were sarcastic, but there was still a sense of warmth to them. In the end, he did seem to actually enjoy the morning run, even if he pretended not to. He was the one who most deeply understood the concept of “being alive” out of all of them, even from such trivial daily events.
That was how special his short life had been to him.
Kengo’s father, Rokurou Utahoshi, had been a scientist studying the infinite potential of Cosmic Energy. Since his life had been cut short in the middle of his career, Kengo had inherited the Astroswitches and Fourze system from him. Since then, he had spent his high school life on a mission to fight enemies abusing Cosmic Energy. Near the end of all of the fighting, he was informed of the shocking truth that he was actually a “sample of Earth specimens” born from a Switch created by the extraterrestrial Presenters, but he was able to overcome the resulting darkness in his heart thanks to the support of his friends. After obtaining a normal human body, he was now able to continue his life as usual.
“Life after high school is the greatest battle of youth!”
Gentarou Kisaragi was a hot-blooded high school student who would get too caught up in his passion for his friends, to the point of going completely haywire. People around him had initially found him to be annoying, but eventually everyone ended up gravitating towards him. Gentarou had transferred to Class B in his second year, took Kengo’s place in using the Fourze Driver, and transformed into Kamen Rider Fourze in order to fight for and protect the school.
“But the transfer stop for youth is too complicated!” yelled Gentarou, still shouting.
He often had a habit of saying “youth proverbs” like this. “Club activities are the main street of youth!” “Throwing stones in the river is how you commemorate your youth!” “If the salt of youth is tears, the soy sauce of youth is ramen!” It was hard to find a high school student as fixated on the concept of youth as he was.
“Hey, Gen, have you still not figured out what you want to do yet?”
“Hurry up and decide what you’re gonna do, Gentarou. We’re graduating in three days, you know.”
Both Yuuki and Kengo’s voices had obvious concern as they walked. The trio stepped off the bank and into a residential area. Gentarou was shuffling around while looking up at the sky.
“Hmmmmmm. Well, I mean, I think we should keep our promise to Mr. Gamou and try to meet the Presenters.”
“Okay, then you should come with — “
Gentarou cut off Yuuki’s words and continued.
“I don’t mean I should try being an astronaut. I mean, if I transform, I can go to space as much as I want.”
“Don’t say that so lightly,” retorted Kengo. “There’s still a lot we don’t understand about the Astroswitches. We have to get to know them thoroughly, because they’re still total mysteries to us.”
Kengo had a clear motive for studying the Presenters. He wanted to know about and study the Presenters who’d created him, and he wanted to know what he was in the first place. As a result, he had no hesitation in deciding to go to Space Kyoto University.
“Gentarou, you might as well come to university with us, considering they went as far as to accept you.”
Gentarou had taken the exam with Kengo and Yuuki and gotten into Space Kyoto University, just as they had. Had he gotten lucky with the high number of multiple choice questions? He certainly had a good track record in his hunches being spot-on, but…either way, it was nothing short of an absolute miracle. After all, it was one of Japan’s most difficult universities to get into. Gorou, Gentarou’s grandfather, had considered it his fault that Gentarou was so academically inept, thinking it was in his genes; he was thrilled to see Gentarou getting into the university by some miracle, and had been aggressively pushing him on. “I won’t say anything bad about your academics anymore. This must be the will of the gods. Go enroll.” But even so, Gentarou was unsure if he even wanted to go to university in the first place.
“But y’know, I really don’t like studying…”
“You’re always so good at doing exactly what you want, but this time you can’t decide anything at all…” said Yuuki, leaning her head in concern.
Even Gentarou agreed that something was unusual about this.
Ama High would appoint teachers to welcome the students at the gate every day. This morning there were two teachers: the beautiful Kickboxing Club advisor, Haruka Utsugi, and a fashionable effeminate man, Satoshi Morota.
“Good morning. You don’t seem to be in your usual rush today.”
“Oho ♪ Teehee.”
Yuuki and Kengo responded with a polite “good morning,” but Gentarou simply passed by with a sullen expression on his face.
“Oh, dear, someone’s ignoring me. Teehee. ♪”
“Hm? Does Kisaragi have an upset stomach?”
Yuuki responded in a whisper.
“It’s more like, he’s worrying about what to do after he graduates.”
The question was eating at Gentarou. What’s wrong with me? I don’t know a thing about what I wanna do…For Gentarou, who had always lived knowing exactly what he wanted and going forward in a straight line, it was his first experience having this sort of feeling. It was like some kind of hazy foreign object had slipped into his head. He did feel like he wanted to do something more, or that there was something he wanted to do, but he still couldn’t understand his own feelings. What was with all the haze, and where did it come from?
He pulled out a tattered photo from his shoe cupboard.2
Kengo and Yuuki looked over his shoulder to see.
Something strange had happened around three months prior. Gentarou had been walking across the riverbank with Yuuki and Kengo in the exact same way as usual, but that day, someone suddenly grabbed him and dragged him to the side, and said:
For some reason, “another Gentarou” was there.
“Sorry, can I borrow the Fourze Driver for a bit?”
Gentarou did what he said and lent him the Driver. After all, it was his own request. Ultimately, a stranger had given it back to him, along with a “Promise Ring” or something. “See you in five years,” he’d said, and when Gentarou had asked what he meant, his response was “I’m a Kamen Rider who got help from you.”
In any case, “the other Gentarou” had dropped this photo. It seemed to be a class photo, and he was there in the center, surrounded by high school students he didn’t recognize. He wasn’t wearing a school uniform, but rather a grey suit and tie. His hair was still in a pompadour, but he looked a little more mature than usual.
Who the heck was that “other me”?
Gentarou took a long, hard look at the photo. He had no idea what was going on, but the part that stood out most to him was that everyone in it, including the other Gentarou, had wide smiles on their faces. Even if Gentarou was having trouble now, if there was a future where he and everyone around him could smile like this, that probably was the right path to take.
“They’re really smiling.”
As he muttered this to himself, Kengo and Yuuki were already walking into the hallway. Gentarou quickly rushed to catch up with them. Kengo started addressing Yuuki, with a little shyness in his voice.
“If Gentarou doesn’t end up joining us, it’ll be just the two of us going to university together, right?”
But Yuuki did not respond.
Yuuki’s face had suddenly become serious. She turned to face Kengo and Gentarou.
“Kengo, Gen, I’ve decided I won’t be going to Kyoto.”
Both of them were in shock.
“I, Yuuki Joujima, am going to America!”
“America? Wait, didn’t you just go to America for your graduation trip?”
“Sorry, I was keeping a bit of a secret…I was actually taking an entrance exam there.”
“So it wasn’t a graduation trip?”
Yuuki nodded and started telling them the truth. If she went abroad to study in America, that would be the quickest way to reach her dream of becoming an astronaut…of course, she’d had her fair share of concerns, but she’d ultimately settled on it as her final decision. As a result, she’d secretly taken the entrance exam without telling them.
It was a shock. But with Gentarou the way he was now, Yuuki, who was heading towards her childhood dreams without any hesitation whatsoever, looked bright and dazzling to him.
“Huh. Well, congrats, Yuuki! Keep going and head straight for your dreams. We’ll get to brag about having a pro astronaut for a friend. Right, Kengo?”
But Kengo was silent.
“America is…pretty far.”
Yuuki laughed and gently took Kengo’s hand.
“We’re on the same planet, so we can meet anytime!”
But Kengo shook off her hand with a cold look on his face.
“You didn’t tell me about this.”
Yuuki felt a bit of pain going through her chest.
Kengo looked away and headed further into the hallway.
“Kengo, what’s wrong? Hey, wait!” said Gentarou, chasing after him.
Left behind in the hallway, Yuuki felt trapped in the unpleasant atmosphere. It was a little suffocating…
“You’re low on oxygen,” said the Mr. Hayabusa puppet (although, more accurately, Yuuki was the one making him say this…).
Yuuki took a deep breath. Okay. She felt a little calmer. Regaining her bearings, she walked into the classroom.
A male student was observing Yuuki from a distance.
There was an ominous aura around him, but the object in his hand was even more ominous. It was a glowing black object with a red tip that stuck out like an eyeball.
It was a Zodiarts Switch.
It was before their first class, and everyone was in high spirits in the classroom. At this point, it was more like an uproar. They were almost completely out of days in their high school life, so the students seemed to want to make the most out of every minute they had.
Kengo’s seat was at the back of the classroom. Yuuki’s seat was the one right in front of him. Gentarou’s was on her right.
There was still an awkward air around all three of them, but eventually, Yuuki gathered up the courage to try talking to Kengo again, and pulled out a paperback book from her bag.
“Hey, Kengo. Have you read this book? You should try reading light novels once in a while.”
Kengo still seemed to be in a bad mood, but he quietly accepted the book.
“You can read the whole thing in one shot. The author’s name is ‘Karashi Imewa’ and it’s apparently their first book, but they’re super talented. Tomoko was the one who recommended it to me.”
“Hey, what’s that? I wanna see it too,” said Gentarou, hoping to help ease the tension between them. “What the heck? ‘My Big Brother’s a Spicy ★ Kung Fu Guy‘? That sounds dumb.”
“Oh, but Gen, that’s the best part about it.”
“Gentarou, do you even read books without pictures?” said Kengo.
Yuuki and Gentarou were somewhat relieved to see Kengo actually responding.
“Well, I do kinda get sleepy after two pages. Ahaha.”
But Yuuki noticed Kengo was still refusing to look at her directly.
At that moment, the classroom door burst open.
“Mornin’, Class B.”
Waving his long arms like a crab, the teacher, Chuuta Ohsugi, entered the crowd. The students took their seats and did the usual greeting of standing up, bowing, and sitting down.
Ohsugi grabbed his trademark suspenders and snapped them.
“Your high school life’s gonna be over soon. Make sure you guys haven’t forgotten to clean up any unfinished business before you go, got it? How ’bout you, Akko?”
He pointed to a girl with glasses.
“Unfinished business? Huh? Huh? Huh, what’s that mean?” she said, confused.
She started suspiciously shuffling through her uniform pockets.
“Your unfinished business is fixing that habit of yours where you get all panicky when you’re put on the spot.”
Akko wiped the sweat off her forehead with the handkerchief she’d just pulled out of her pocket.
“What about you, Ramu?”
A girl with brown hair and a face full of bright makeup answered with a nervous laugh.
“Unfinished business…um, getting my first kiss, maybe?”
“You liar. Aren’t you always mackin’ around with a boy all the time?”
The classroom burst into laughter.
“What about you, Mr. Ohsugi? Did you have unfinished business in high school?” said a voice within the laughter.
“My high school life, my cursed high school life…”
Ohsugi’s face suddenly turned dark at the thought of his own miserable time in high school. He opened his arms and slammed them on the desk.
“I — regret — everything!“
The classroom was roaring with laughter. Gentarou had joined in, but then…
“You, of all people, don’t have the right to laugh! Ki-sa-ra-giiiiii!”
Ohsugi shot a glare at Gentarou, grabbed his pompadour, and started shaking it.
“H-H-Hey! Why me?!”
“You still haven’t submitted your career planning sheet.”
“I told you, I haven’t decided yet.”
“Just say you’re gonna take a gap year or be unemployed or something and turn it in.”
“Come on, I can’t do that. It’s an important topic about a student’s future, y’know.”
Ohsugi calmed down and put Gentarou’s hair back.
“Okay then, is there something you wanna do?”
“No, see, that’s the part I don’t know.”
Ohsugi held his irritation back and tried asking again.
“Well, there’s gotta be something. Try just saying the first thing that really comes to mind. Try telling me. What is it, huh?”
Gentarou took a moment to think about it.
“…It’s kinda fuzzy.”
“It’s all fuzzy.”
“Yeah. It’s all fuzzy! That’s really how it feels!”
“You shouldn’t say that kinda thing so confidently!” yelled Ohsugi, baring his teeth and spitting.
“Hey, Mr. Ohsugi, can we have our class now? We can save the Gentarou skit for later.”
A girl with a bob cut spoke up just in time, and the Gentarou routine was over for the day.
Ohsugi released Gentarou from his headlock and returned to the podium.
“You can pay me back by helping me out with the committee today.”
The girl’s name was Yukina Takamura. She’d fallen in love with Gentarou at some point in the past, but had eventually given up on him after a certain school trip. Currently, for some reason, she’d decided to start up a prom party executive committee.
The classroom finally settled down, and Ohsugi seemed to remember something.
“Oh, one more thing before we start class. The graduation sign in the gymnasium was found broken. Did one of you pull a prank or somethin’?”
“You mean the culprit’s in our class?”
The Class B third-years were fervently whispering between themselves.
“No, no, no, I’m not suspecting anyone here in particular, I just wanted to ask if anyone knows or heard anything.”
The class was in a flurry again.
“Some punks did it, I’m telling you.”
“I bet the first-years did it. They’ve got a lot of snotty brats.”
“Hey, didn’t something like this happen last year?”
“There was a monster, and that girl from the newspaper club was throwing a fit.”
“Who was it again? It was the girl with glasses, right?”
Gentarou remembered the incident in question. The girl was a student in the newspaper club, and had loved Ama High so much that she didn’t want to graduate, so she had become the Berenices Zodiarts and attempted to destroy the graduation ceremony and prom.
They were the result of humans transforming into strange beings via a Switch developed by Mitsuaki Gamou. The Switch had the ability to materialize Cosmic Energy, and when a human pressed the Switch, Cosmic Energy would accumulate in their body and evolve them to become stronger. However, the terrifying trade-off was that their human hatred and desires would eventually go berserk and out of control.
Each Zodiarts had their own constellation and corresponding star lines, and each constellation came with a unique shape and ability. The highest-tier Zodiarts of all of them were called Horoscopes, and they corresponded to the twelve zodiac constellations. It was said that a Zodiarts constellation would be assigned based on the nature of whichever human had pressed the Switch, or in other words, “the fate of their stars”.
Had that girl caused another incident? No, that couldn’t be it. After graduating, she’d joined a local newspaper, and they’d heard she was currently aspiring to be a full-time newspaper reporter as a career. What would she get out of going all the way back to her alma mater and ruining her juniors’ graduation ceremony? She wasn’t even a Zodiarts anymore to begin with.
So was there a new Zodiarts now?
Gentarou felt a cold sensation around his spine. Back when he was fighting as a Kamen Rider, he’d often gotten this same feeling. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long while now. Yuuki seemed to be thinking the same thing, and she was looking back at him from her seat with an unnerved look on her face.
“Mr. Ohsugi, what exactly happened to the sign?” she asked.
“See, Joujima, that’s the weird part. The plywood was torn up and there were holes, like a dinosaur bit into it or something…ack!”
Ohsugi, who technically served as the advisor for the Space Kamen Rider Club, seemed to have also realized the possibility of this being a Zodiarts incident. Kengo, too, was feeling the same sense of nervousness, and he had a very grave expression on his face.
But the other ordinary students there didn’t know very much about Zodiarts. Besides, even if Ama High was no stranger to such incidents, it had been relatively peaceful for the last half year.
“We can’t have a single normal graduation here, can we?”
Kengo’s voice was full of sarcasm as he reached for the curry bread he’d bought from the school store. Gentarou and Yuuki followed suit and stuffed their faces with the curry bread. They were sitting on the roof and eating lunch together as a trio. It was as if they were all tied together by curry bread that day. Ama High’s specialty curry bread was crispy on the outside and had creamy and spicy Thai curry on the inside. It went perfectly with a box of milk.
“Everything was a mess before last year’s graduation, too. So many Zodiarts.”
“It’s a school tradition. Something bad always happens before graduation.”
Kengo managed to keep himself looking cool as he drank down his boxed milk.
“Shun really wanted to dance with Miu, and he kept trying all sorts of things to ask her out, but Miu wanted to dance with Gen, right?”
The prom party, more commonly shortened to just “prom”, was a graduation afterparty during which graduates would dance in male and female pairs. It had been a yearly tradition for as long as Ama High had existed.
“And then you accepted her offer and danced with her in the end. Under the Ferris wheel, at night.”
“Yeah, I did.”
The nostalgic memory made Gentarou feel all warm and fuzzy. Man, that takes me back. It’s been a whole year, huh? Adults always talk like “a year ago” is a recent thing, but we’re in the middle of our youth, so a year is a really long time. If you calculate from your age, when you’re 18 years old, that’s a whole 1/18 of your life. If you’re 36 years old, that’s 1/36 of your life. So when you’re 18 years old, that’s twice as huge. Besides, we in the Kamen Rider Club probably had a lot more exciting of a school life than most normal high school kids would. Not many high school kids spend their time trying to get rid of monsters.
“By the way, Gen, who’d you invite to prom?”
“Nobody,” said Gentarou, with a blank expression.
“Why? Aren’t you gonna dance at prom? You’re not gonna do anything for your last memory of high school?”
“My last memory of high school, huh…maybe I should, huh?”
Gentarou didn’t seem to have a single idea of what to do.
“Come on, Gen, isn’t there someone you wanna make your last and best memory of high school life with?”
“You don’t know…”
“I don’t even know what I wanna do after I graduate! Spring’s here, and I don’t know a thing.”
Gentarou pointed at Kengo and Yuuki.
“You two are dancing together, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Right, Kengo?”
The two of them had been awkward around each other ever since Yuuki had revealed that she’d be going to America, but they hadn’t gotten in a fight, either.
But Kengo looked away.
“Yuuki, let’s forget about dancing at prom.”
“Hey, what’s wrong, Kengo?”
Kengo still wouldn’t look Yuuki in the eye.
“You kept that whole thing about studying in America a secret from me…”
Of course it was about that. Something was hurting in Yuuki’s chest again.
Gentarou put his hand on Kengo’s shoulder.
“C’mon, Kengo, are you still mad about that? Can’t you just let it go?”
Kengo’s face was red like a tomato. He shook Gentarou’s arm off with a rough motion.
“What do you mean, let it go? What the hell was that? Yuuki, why didn’t you tell me anything about this?”
“Well…I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t have kept it from you, but I wasn’t trying to hide it from you or anything.”
“It’d just be really embarrassing if I didn’t pass, so…”
Gentarou sighed in relief.
“Haha, you were worried about that?”
“I mean, Gen, this is really important to me, this is about whether I can take my first step towards my dream. It’s a sensitive issue.”
Gentarou was able to accept that explanation, but Kengo still couldn’t.
“So you didn’t trust me enough to tell me about it at all. So that’s how you see me.”
Yuuki fell silent.
“Hey, hey, hey, we can’t be having a fight here at the end of our high school life! It’s the end of our youth! You’re not gonna stop making important memories, are you?”
“I don’t want to hear that from you of all people, Gentarou, not when you’re not even going to dance at prom.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to stop making important high school memories, we’re just not going to dance.”
As the fight between the boys was about to escalate, Yuuki spoke up.
She turned around and ran off.
Kengo refused to look back at her as she did. He tried to endure the suffocating feeling that was washing over him. He hadn’t wanted to fight, but his irrationally stubborn feeling of being unable to forgive Yuuki had won out.
Seeing his friends unable to see eye to eye over something so trivial, Gentarou could only watch in discomfort.
Naturally, Kengo and Yuuki did not say a word to each other during their afternoon classes. Gentarou, stuck between the two, had to endure the heavy atmosphere between them.
I totally get why Yuuki didn’t tell him about studying in America. For Yuuki, this is her absolute dream and goal. She’d do anything for that. Once she’s set on something, there’s no point in asking anyone for advice about it. So of course she didn’t tell anyone about it until later. Yuuki said “we’re on the same planet, so we can meet anytime,” and she really meant it. No matter how far apart we are, it’ll be fine as long as our hearts are together. She really believes that.
Now on the other hand here, I can’t say I don’t completely get why Kengo’s upset. He was looking forward to going to university in Kyoto with her, and then he suddenly got told it’s not happening. But…y’know. Aren’t you being kinda whiny about this, Kengo? Shouldn’t you be happier about seeing your friend do well? I mean, that’s what I think.
Well, I’m sure adults would say this whole thing isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a big problem for us. There’s a lot of things like that. Got a problem with that? That’s just how youth is, y’know.
“I’ll be at the committee room,” whispered Yuuki to Gentarou. She turned and left the classroom. Yukina was forcing all three of them to participate in the prom party committee meeting after school.
Kengo’s facial expression didn’t change, but internally, he was irritated that Yuuki had completely ignored him.
Gentarou couldn’t help but sigh. No, seriously, why’s everything so awkward now? Are they gonna be okay at the prom party? He suddenly remembered he had to worry about himself, too. What am I even gonna do?
He was still mulling over it as he left the classroom. Kengo followed him, also thinking about things with a serious expression. As they walked down the hallway, completely lost in thought, someone ran into them.
Gentarou’s apology was met with a machine gun barrage of complaints.
“‘Sorry’ doesn’t even begin to cover it! Man, I’m finally back at school after so long, but I can’t even walk down the hallway without running into trouble! And then I see it’s you, Kisaragi, I always figured you were a careless little prat.”
“Oh, it’s you, Kijima.”
Natsuji Kijima. Like Gentarou and his friends, he was a third-year. He was a quick talker, a member of the rakugo3 cultural club, and the kind of person who was always looking down on others and mocking them. He had once caused a huge amount of trouble for everyone as the Cancer Zodiarts, a member of the Horoscopes.
“Man, do you seriously have to go that far? You owe us, you know that, right? Aren’t rakugo guys like you supposed to be all like ‘my thankful greatness to you’? Or was it ‘my greatest thanks to you’? Wait…”
“It’s ‘my greatest thanks to you’. If you’re talking about what you did the other day, you’ve gotten quite the misconception in your heads. Truly laughable. I never asked you to come save me, after all.”
“Didn’t you whine at us for taking so long to pick you up?”
“Of course not, I was planning on going back by myself when I felt like it. Heh heh.”
Kijima was brimming with confidence as usual. He had the brains and courage of a high school prodigy, to the point Headmaster Gamou had referred to him as “a man with superhuman ability”.
Just then, Yuuta Sugiura appeared behind him. He was the former vice president of the student council. He had also been a member of the Horoscopes, and was the “overly serious man” who had tried to use his powers as the Taurus Zodiarts to bring “order” to Ama High.
“Personally, I’m grateful to Kisaragi here. You see, Kijima, it would have been impossible for us. If it hadn’t been for Fourze’s abilities, we would have died up there in space.”
“No, no, see, a cow boy like you might have been ‘moo-red’ up there, but I’m different.”
“Oh, my, the cow boy has such a serious look on his face.”
As he listened to the two of them put on a strange comedy act, Gentarou reminisced on the particular day Kijima had mentioned, when they had brought them back from space.
On that day, two Kamen Riders appeared in a space distortion.
Fourze Cosmic States and Meteor. Cosmic States’ weapon, the Cracklebang Sword, had the ability to warp them from Earth to outerspace in a mere instant.
They were surrounded by white walls and different kinds of devices everywhere. Everything was silent except for the echoes of a precision machine in the background. They were immediately hit by the lack of gravity, and were floating in the air.
Outside the window, out in the distance, was the Earth, bright and blue.
The pair of Riders had arrived at a white artificial satellite called the “M-BUS”. It had originally been made by Professor Emoto, who had served as the Virgo Zodiarts and Gamou’s right-hand man, using OSTO technology and funds.
However, Emoto had come to regret his mistakes, and had thus betrayed Emoto. In order to stop his plans, he had created a false identity for himself, “Anti-Zodiarts Union member Tachibana”, and had started providing secret backup for Meteor. The M-BUS had served as “Tachibana”‘s base of activities. In other words, it was a “secret base” for Emoto’s rebellion. But now that he had since passed away, there was nobody left who understood everything about the facility.
“There we go.”
Fourze released his transformation. Gentarou was wearing an orange jumpsuit with the word “Friendship” printed in large letters on the back.
“Hey, Gentarou! Are you sure there’s air in there?!” said Meteor in a panic.
“Aaaaaaack!” Gentarou, realizing what he’d just done, also began to panic. He started inhaling and exhaling deeply.
“I can breathe. We’re good. We’re good, Ryuusei!”
“Why are you always like this…”
Meteor released his own transformation as well. He was a boy with a handsome face, named Ryuusei Sakuta. Like Gentarou, he was wearing an orange jumpsuit.
Ryuusei was a master of the Star and Soul Cycle style of martial arts, and a third-year student at the prestigious Subaruboshi High School. He had once transferred into Ama High as a spy for the Anti-Zodiarts Union to keep an eye on the Kamen Rider Club’s actions, but he had since become a close friend of Gentarou who fought the Zodiarts alongside him.
As the Virgo Zodiarts, Professor Emoto had sent any Horoscopes who had failed Gamou’s orders into the Dark Nebula, which was supposed to be an inescapable space prison. However, it had actually been a farce, and he had actually been keeping them in stasis in the M-BUS, to be protected there until the fighting had ended. Emoto could not bring himself to kill the Horoscopes on Gamou’s command, and had felt that even they should not be used as his tools.
Despite everything, Natsuji Kijima, Yuuta Sugiura, and the third victim, Sarina Sonoda, should have the right to live…
Under that line of thinking, Fourze and Meteor had finally come to rescue them.
They opened the hatch and swam through the air into the back room. They were floating in midair, so it was hard to tell what was up and what was down. It was a mysterious sensation, like diving and swimming up and down.
“Heeeeeey! Sonooooooo, Kijimaaaaaaa, Sugiuraaaaa, where are you?
“They’re not gonna hear you, let alone respond. Tomoko and I were in here once, and we tried, but they were sleeping in some specialized devices.”
“Oh, right, you were here before, huh. Well, I mean, yelling their names gets you in the mood, right? Feels like you’re really looking for ’em.”
“Fine, do whatever you want.”
There was a pause as they floated in the air.
Ryuusei’s expression had suddenly gotten somewhat more serious.
“Remember what we talked about earlier? Did you give it any more thought?”
“You mean, about joining Interpol with you?”
“Yeah. Inga said they were interested in having both of us, not just me.”
Inga Blink was an operative of the Aletheia Federation, and had once fought alongside Gentarou and Ryuusei. In other words, she was a “friend in arms”. It seemed she was still in contact with Ryuusei.
“At first, I suspected they just wanted the Meteor System more than they wanted me in particular, but it seems that’s not actually the case. Inga’s been keeping all of that a secret from them.”
“Protecting the world, huh?”
“To put it simply, it’s a very worthwhile job.”
“Hmmmm. Doesn’t really feel right for me, though…”
“Do you not like working in an organized group?”
“‘Course not, I’m a member of the Kamen Rider Club.”
Ryuusei wasn’t exactly sure how exactly the Kamen Rider Club and Interpol were supposed to be on the same level, but he continued anyway.
“So what’s the problem?”
“I dunno, I just…hmm, it just doesn’t feel right.”
As far as Gentarou was concerned, if something didn’t click with him, nothing would come out of forcing him into it, so Ryuusei decided to let the matter drop without protest. On the other hand, however, Gentarou felt a little unsettled knowing that Ryuusei had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do, while he himself still couldn’t decide on anything.
The two of them were deep in thought about the issue as they swam through the air, until Gentarou caught sight of something unusual.
One of the devices on the wall, a silver panel, had a blur around it, and it seemed like it had moved in an opposite direction to everything else. It was a strange thing to see, as if the metal had split. Was it just his imagination? Gentarou had a sudden, strange feeling in his chest. He couldn’t explain it, but there was definitely something odd about it.
“What’s wrong, Gentarou?”
“It’s nothing, I just…thought something was there just now.”
“Wait, a Zodiarts?”
“No, it didn’t feel like that. I think it was something else.”
“You probably saw a machine moving or something. The M-BUS is a fully automated satellite, so it’s got a lot of moving parts.”
Through all of the fighting, Gentarou had been carried many times by his keen sense of intuition. That intuition had caught onto something unusual. But what was it? He still couldn’t tell whether it was a good sign or a bad one.
If something’s not clear yet, we’ll think about it harder when it actually clears up. That’s the best thing to do. Gentarou always put that principle first, and it was always how he did things.
Bang! While lost in his thoughts, Gentarou had hit his pompadour against the wall. Behind him was what seemed to be a small, transparent window. He looked through it to see a beautiful woman sleeping there.
“Whooooa! We found Sono!”
A tube capsule, one big enough to hold an entire person, was embedded in the wall, and Sarina Sonoda was sleeping within it.
She had been their former Class B teacher during his second year at Ama High, and had turned out to actually be the Scorpio Zodiarts. At first, Gentarou and his friends had been completely unaware that their own homeroom teacher had been a member of the Horoscopes and had secretly handing out malicious Switches to their fellow students, so they had adored her, and Gentarou had even nicknamed her “Sono”. Even now, she didn’t come off as a despicable sort of enemy. It was still hard to really feel that their own teacher was the same person as Scorpio, the Horoscopes’ most skilled martial artist and poison specialist who had inflicted so much suffering on others. Was it because she had been hiding her identity for so long? As he floated weightlessly in midair, Gentarou looked at Sonoda’s quiet sleeping face and felt something strange. I wonder how she felt about us as her students every day?
“Hey, that damn storyteller’s here, too.”
Opposite Sonoda was another capsule embedded in the wall, with Natsuji Kijima in it. Next to Kijima was Sugiura, in his own capsule.
“All right, we’ve got everyone. Hey, Ryuusei, how do we open these?”
“Huh, you don’t know?”
“Well, we’ll just have to figure it out.”
As Ryuusei began operating the keyboard, a beep rang out and Sugiura’s capsule opened. He was the kind of Ama High model student who was good at both academics and sports, but he was there in a grey tank top and shorts. It seemed it would take a while for him to fully wake up, so he blinked his eyes, trying to adjust to the light. “Hey, Sugiura, get up,” said Ryuusei, smacking his cheeks a little.
“Well, whatever. Take your time.”
He let the drowsy Sugiura float in midair and got back to work.
Gentarou was struggling with Sonoda’s capsule.
“Hey, Ryuusei, can you open this one?”
Ryuusei seemed to have gotten a hang of it, and after dancing his fingers on the keyboard, the capsule immediately opened. Sonoda’s eyelids twitched and slowly opened. Her eyes seemed to remain half-open.
“That’s really cute…”
Gentarou was enthralled by how much she looked like Sleeping Beauty on the verge of awakening.
“Who’s there?” muttered Sonoda, noticing him there.
Gentarou had a refreshing smile on his face.
“Rise and shine.”
Gentarou’s smile dissipated. Right, she’s a Horoscope. We were on opposite sides, so she left off on bad terms with the Rider Club. We’re really not even supposed to be on the same side right now. But still, there’s something sad about how the first thing she says is the name of the very same boss who tried to have her executed.
“Fourze. You little brat.”
Sonoda wanted to grab Gentarou with all of the hatred she could muster, but having just woken up from her artificial sleep, her muscles weren’t responding to her brain quite yet. She staggered and fell over, only to end up floating within the zero-gravity space. Gentarou instictively grabbed her arm and pulled her back in, and was taken aback at how cold and fragile her skin felt.
“H-Hey, Sono, listen. The Horoscopes aren’t a thing anymore. We’re done fighting with the headmaster. Everything’s over, so we’re friends now.”
“What the hell are you saying?”
Sonoda was still barely even able to process anything, and felt heavily nauseous.
Gentarou held out his hand, as if trying to start a handshake.
“I just said, we’re friends now.”
Sonoda’s frustration was all too apparent as she kicked the capsule with a bang. What’s this disgusting little schoolboy trying to tell me? I’m about to throw up. Friend? Is he trying to be all buddy-buddy with me? Yeah, I’m really going to throw up.
Gentarou took a deep breath and sighed.
“Guess she’s not listening. Well, I guess she’s not gonna take sudden news like that so easily.”
Meanwhile, Ryuusei was in absolutely no mood to wake Natsuji Kijima, who had been sleeping in the capsule in front of Sonoda. He was the kind of talkative person who tried to weasel through everything with words. On top of that, he had been an unusually strong opponent. He was the kind of genius who had attained the Zodiarts’ ultimate power, “Supernova”, on his own. Had it not been for Kijima awakening his powers as Cancer Nova, Meteor might not have evolved into Meteor Storm.
“Hey, Gentarou, why don’t we just leave this one asleep?” Ryuusei had traces of a smirk on his face as he turned to Gentarou.
Just then, Ryuusei could sense Kijima opening his eyes within the capsule.
Ryuusei was caught in shock for a second, but when he looked closer, Kijima’s eyes were still closed.
“Must have been my imagination.”
But somehow, he could sense Kijima’s expression saying something like “haha, serves you right”…
So, of course, his eyes opened again.
“Aww, Ryuu, Kisaragi, you’re such terrible people. You could’ve come and get me earlier, y’know.”
According to Kijima, he was actually the first to wake up. He started sitting in an amusing cross-legged pose while hovering around in zero gravity. After observing Kijima closely for a fashion, Ryuusei turned to face Sugiura.
“How’s everything going for you, Sugiura? Have you gotten a grasp of what’s going on yet?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m still feeling a bit drowsy, though.”
“Yeah, makes sense. Probably to be expected.”
The way Ryuusei saw it, it seemed Kijima had settled into things much faster than everyone else. It seemed like he’d even opened his eyes before they’d released him — although perhaps it was just his imagination.
“You seem to be the only one who’s up and about, Kijima. You don’t seem to be surprised about any of this at all.”
“What, you don’t like it? Hmm, perhaps you’re disappointed I didn’t have a funny enough reaction for the hidden camera?”
“Yeah. You’re the one whose little play-act caused us the worst kinds of trouble. You could at least have the decency to do your actual job and make us laugh like you’re supposed to.”
“Huh? Why, Ryuu, I can’t do that for someone like you when you don’t even have a sense of humor yourself. The kiddos in the Rider Club were all terribly unfunny, but a certain someone exploiting the Rider Club to help his own best friend…that was hilarious, don’t you agree, Kisaragi?”
Ryuusei’s fist hit Kijima right in the face. Everyone else recoiled in shock. Ryuusei grabbed Kijima by the chest and dragged him forward, his eyes full of anger as he glared at him.
“Maybe I should make some crab sashimi out of you.”
“Meh, I think stew would be better,” said Kijima, with a perfectly straight face. “Man, you haven’t changed a bit. You get pissed off so easily. Such an easy blind spot.”
The punch had hit him directly in the mouth, and it was slightly bleeding. But thanks to the lack of gravity, the blood started floating, as if taunting Ryuusei. Ryuusei was about to hit him again when Gentarou came in to intervene.
“Hey, Ryuusei, this ain’t the time to be fighting. Let’s go home.”
Having transformed into Fourze Cosmic States, Gentarou looked around.
“Anyone got stuff they still need to do here? Wanna take a photo or something?”
Sugiura was in a good enough mood to crack a small smile at Gentarou’s joke, but everyone else was silent. Ryuusei and Kijima were too irritable for it, and Sonoda was feeling too sick.
Fourze inserted a Cosmic Switch into the Cracklebang Sword, causing energy to gather at its tip and creating a wormhole. The cramped darkness of the M-BUS was illuminated with strong light.
“All right, guys. Hold onto me. Ryuusei, you take care of Sono.”
“Got it. Let’s go.”
Ryuusei held onto Sonoda with his left hand, and put his right one around Fourze’s waist. Kijima clung to the X mark on his right leg, and Sugiura clung to the triangle mark on his left. Fourze looked back to check if everyone was in a good position, and saw that Sonoda’s face was pale. It seemed she really was in poor condition.
“Hang in there, Sono. We’ll be back soon.”
Sonoda did not reply, but looked back at Fourze. Fourze could sense something strange in her eyes.
“Hey, Mr. Chaffeur, how long are you gonna keep us waiting?” complained Kijima.
Fourze decided to push aside thinking too hard about the nagging feeling for now. If the reason for the nagging feeling wasn’t clear yet, he’d think about it harder when it actually cleared up. That was how Gentarou did things.
“Okay, hold on tight. If you let go while we’re in the wormhole, who knows where you’ll end up. Even I can’t help you then.”
The group jumped into the glowing vortex.
And so, Kijima and Sugiura had been safely returned to Ama High, and were about to graduate with the rest of them.
“Hey, while you’re here, Sugiura, what are you gonna do after you graduate?” asked Gentarou.
“I’ll be going to university and studying politics.”
“Oh, okay. So you’re gonna be a politician, then.”
People who studied politics became politicians, people who studied law became lawyers, and people who studied literature became writers. Gentarou had a very simple way of thinking.
“What, you’re not gonna ask me?” interjected Kijima.
“We all know you’re gonna be a pro rakugo guy.”
Seeing that Gentarou was utterly uninterested in his own career, Kijima sighed and gave up.
“On that note,” said Sugiura, “Miss Sonoda seems to have gone to live with her parents. Apparently, she was quite shocked to learn about the Horoscopes’ demise.”
“Where do her folks live?”
“I don’t know…I’ve heard that it’s out in the countryside.”
“I’ll need to take my leave. See you later, Kisaragi.”
“Come on, we should go too,” said Kengo, nudging Gentarou. Right, they were supposed to be on their way to the prom committee meeting. Gentarou had gotten too caught up in reminiscing about the past that he’d gotten distracted. Gentarou and Kengo quickly picked themselves up and started heading there, but Kijima called out to them at the last minute.
“Those Zodiarts truly are concerning, don’t you think?”
“What about the Zodiarts?” said Kengo.
“Oh dear, you weren’t aware? There’s another one out there, and yet you were all planning to graduate without a care in the world. Isn’t the Kamen Rider Club supposed to protect the school and all of Earth? You certainly don’t live up to your name.”
“You sound like you know something. What’s going on? Spill it.”
Kijima was satisfied by his usual accomplishment of getting on people’s nerves, and left, with no response besides humming a tune to himself.
Around twenty students were in the school courtyard, wearing jerseys, painting signboards and banners. While they worked, Yukina Takamura was giving motivational speeches on her megaphone.
“Prom is a night where everyone becomes the main character of their own story! It’s the most bittersweet and beautiful night!”
Nobody there was actually listening to her, but Yukina didn’t seem to care.
“Prom has been often ridiculed as a place where the selected elite enjoy their festival at the expense of miserable losers, but we must not be afraid! ‘Youth’ is a time that must have both light and shadow. The prom is ‘youth’ itself! Yeah!”
Yukina was the kind of person who had been nicknamed “a female version of Gentarou”. As she kept singing the praises of youth with her very eccentric air, Yuuki was painting a sign with the word “PROM” written on it in cute letters. Having changed into his work jersey, Gentarou combed up his pompadour and went to go join Yuuki.
“Man, Yukina’s real passionate about this whole thing.”
“She is, isn’t she? She’s been constantly yelling the same things every day, did something happen recently?”
“Maybe she got a boyfriend?”
“Hmmmm, I dunno. But she gave up on that whole ‘Gen love’ thing already, didn’t she? She hasn’t been on about that since that school trip.”
“Yeah, she totally gave up on that one.”
Kengo arrived to join in the conversation.
“No, but what if Takamura hasn’t given up?”
“What if she’s setting up this whole prom party to be her confession backdrop?”
“No way, would Yukina really have that kind of idea in her head?…actually, I wouldn’t put it past her.”
Gentarou shivered in horror, and Kengo and Yuuki started laughing before realizing they were supposed to be on bad terms. They quickly stopped laughing and turned away from each other, and Gentarou, seeing how awkward the situation had gotten, could only respond with an exasperated “guys…” and a sigh. Yukina’s loud and fervent yelling was dominating the scene.
“Fill yourselves with spirit! This year’s prom is on a luxury liner, so be prepared! Yeah!”
It was the kind of unbelievable event that was only possible because one of the students was the daughter of a wealthy family. Her parents had made a large donation for their daughter’s prom. Said daughter’s name was Sumie Taira, and she was one of the committe members and one of Gentarou’s classmates. There were many rich kids like this in Ama High; the original Kamen Rider Club president, Miu Kazashiro, and member Shun Daimonji were among them. Of course, the majority of the students were from ordinary houesholds, but since it was a high school founded by the world-famous Mitsuaki Gamou, that alone made it a beacon of support from wealthy people who were passionate about their children’s educaction. On top of that, making huge donations to the school was like a signifier of status, so the prom parties had been getting more and more elaborate by the year.
As Sumie was working by herself, Yukina rushed over to her and clutched her shoulders.
“Thanks, Sumie! Let’s make this the best party ever! Do it for me!”
Did Yukina say “do it for me” just now? Gentarou had a bad feeling about this.
No matter how extravagant the prom was, preparation still involved mindless grunt work. Nobody there was having much fun, and it was all a matter of doing their jobs.
Gentarou ran out of paint, and tried to see if he could borrow some from elsewhere.
Sumie Taira was in the middle of working on a sign saying “this way to the venue”.
“Hey, Sumie. Can you lend me some red paint?”
Sumie, looking embarrassed, lowered her head.
“Your dad’s real amazing. I heard he rented out a boat for us or something? All the students in the school should be thanking you,” said Gentarou, with a bright smile on his face.
But Sumie only lowered her head even further, and stirred the brush around the can of red paint.
Sumie was lost in thought.
She wasn’t good at bringing herself to talk with a carefree person like Gentarou. She wasn’t like Yukina, who could easily speak up to anyone she wanted. And on top of that, she was frustrated by her own inability to speak well.
Gentarou was a little taken aback.
“Can I? If it’s okay, I’ll borrow this for a bit.”
Gentarou tried to pick up the can of red paint, but a high-strung boy spoke up to interrupt him.
“Wait right there, Kisaragi.”
He had messy hair and was wearing glasses. It was Hiroki Makise.
Makise was a former Astronomy Club member, and had also been stalking Yuuki at one point. He had been a creep with a trigger temper, and had tried to use his powers as the Pyxis Zodiarts to steal a bus and kidnap a large number of girls. At this point, though, he should have turned over a new leaf.
“Oh, Makise. You’re on the committee too, huh?”
“Indeed. I was asked to join, so I did. Anyway, I don’t think you should be taking that can from the little recluse here. She’s using it right now.”
“But Sumie said it was okay.”
“She did not. She’s the kind of person who can’t bring herself to ever say ‘no’. You have to be the one to figure out whether she actually means to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I suppose overly assertive types like you wouldn’t quite get it, though.”
“Is that right, Sumie?”
That was exactly it. But it was irritating that a creep like Makise had to explain this like he understood her, and it was also irritating that Gentarou had been so blunt in asking “is that right?” And the one she was most irritated with was herself, for being self-conscious enough to get her into this situation in the first place.
Sumie’s face turned a pitiful red, and she began shaking.
Gentarou realized it might actually be the first time he was particularly aware of her presence, given how out of the way she always tried to be. Oh, I see. I didn’t mean to, but I guess I caused her trouble, huh? She was stooped over in a hunchback, and had glasses with thick lenses. He hadn’t even known she was the daughter of a rich family until the entire issue of prom had come up. Normally, Sumie was the kind of nerd girl who would sulk by herself in the corner of the classroom, quietly making her favorite hobby bottle ships (!) without talking to anyone else. She probably hadn’t even wanted to join the prom committee, but hadn’t been able to give a firm “no” to Yukina and had thus been dragged in.
It wasn’t something anyone could discuss out loud, but many of the prom committee members were the kind of “reserved types who were unlikely to be involved with prom parties to begin with”. Yukina herself had grabbed everyone around her, and there were people who had consciously accepted her offer, but there were introverts who had been completely dragged into this against their will. They weren’t interested in finding dance partners and were more likely to stay out of the spotlight, perhaps because they were afraid of getting hurt. Makise, of all people, would certainly be the most likely to get this mentality.
“Sorry. Can you let me have it when you’re done, then?”
As Gentarou returned the paint can, Yukina’s voice echoed throughout the courtyard workshop.
“Hey! Stop with the harassment!”
Gentarou turned to see Yukina arguing with a blonde student. Her name was Ryouko Sakamoto, and she was a delinquent punk. She had piercings in her eyebrows and lips, as if trying to show off her way of life. The other committee members, watching from a distance, were whispering between themselves with “oh, no, she’s here again” and “why does she have to keep coming here?” But when Ryouko looked back at them with a terrifying glare, saying “Hm? What?”, everyone quickly looked away. Ryouko stuck out her tongue in mockery. She’d split her tongue in two, like a snake. Most of the other students recoiled at the sight of it, but Yukina stood firm.
Yukina pointed at a signboard at her feet. Ryouko had stepped on it, and there were footprints all over it. It was obvious she had done it deliberately.
“Why don’t you apologize for putting an eyesore like this up in a public place? You make your cute little signboard and draw a cute little thing on it.”
Ryouko had no sense of hesitation in being violent with others, and she pushed Yukina roughly.
“I don’t know why you have to keep harassing us every time, but prom is a well-established school-sanctioned event. If you continue to try and sabotage us, I will have to inform the school about this.”
Ryouko was about to punch Yukina without warning, but Gentarou came in from the side and quickly grabbed Ryouko’s fist right before it hit Yukina’s face.
“Hey. Stop it. You’re Ryouko Sakamoto from Class D, right?”
Ryouko looked around to see Yuuki, Kengo, and all of the other students surrounding her, staring at her coldly. Ryouko unraveled her fist with a rough motion and addressed Gentarou with a sharp glare.
“Hey, Kisaragi, what’s your business getting involved with something like prom? Look how ugly and stupid it is.”
All eyes were gathered straight on Gentarou.
“Youth is like a menu with both sweet and bitter memories.”
It was one of his specialty “youth proverbs”.
“With prom, I think it’s better to try eating something instead of regretting it later. But if you don’t want to eat, you don’t have to. That’s your choice. But there’s a lot of people looking forward to it, so stop bothering them.”
Ryouko’s right hand moved. For a moment, it looked like she was going to take a weapon out of her pocket and hit Gentarou with it, but instead, she simply stuck out her tongue again in mockery.
“There are people who are suffering because of this prom’s very existence, y’know,” she said, as if delivering a warning.
Sumie had been hanging her head down for a while now. Makise was also listening in, with a strange expression on his face.
“Well, I’m done. I’m leaving.”
Ryouko turned around, raised her hand, and left.
But Kengo had noticed. Ryouko had already put her hand back in her pocket, but he was sure he had seen it holding a Zodiarts Switch.
In truth, Ryouko had also been interested in the prom at one point.
I’m not usually into that kind of thing, but if he invites me, I don’t mind dancing.
Ryouko had fallen in love with a boy, a textbook example of a “jock”, or in other words, a regular member of the soccer club with a great reputation for his skill. On the other hand, Ryouko was a “floater”, or in other words, a drifter. She was a lone wolf who didn’t have a place in the clique hierarchy centering around the Queen, and a delinquent. Ryouko was well aware that a jock and a floater would make a poor match. But they lived in the same neighborhood, and were childhood friends, so there was no wall between them and they were able to talk about anything. Ryouko had figured that they had been “friends for so long that it was simply too late for them to ever start dating. But while she’d been mulling on the delicate boundary between friendship and romance, she heard his jock friends in the soccer club saying things.
“That punk over there is a totally poor fit for you. You’re the kinda guy who’s aiming to be King, so you should go out with a Queen kinda girl.”
As a result, the jock boy had started dating a girl named Reiko Hirota, who was considered one of the cutest girls in her grade. She was a pretty enough girl to have been a candidate for the Queen Festival since her very first year. He’d invited her out to prom, and was planning on dancing with her. I can’t do prom like this. I wish it didn’t exist.
Or rather, I’ll make sure it doesn’t exist. It’ll be a cakewalk if I use “my powers”.
Ryouko quickly turned around to see Kengo, running behind her by himself. Had he been following her? She had been on her way home after the committee meeting had ended, and the road around them was gloomy. It was the kind of street people didn’t go by often.
“Hey, Sakamoto. Do you have a Switch?”
Ryouko was taken aback. How does this guy know about my powers?
“If you have one, give it to me. It’s too dangerous to be carrying around.”
Huh? What? Hmph. Is it me against him now? Ryouko pulled out her Zodiarts Switch and placed her finger on the red button as a threat.
“The Zodiarts Switch materializes Cosmic Energy directly within the human body. The human body is fully decomposed and reconstructed on the genetic level, turning them into a monster. It’ll have adverse effects on your mind when you use it.”
“I’ve got no clue what you’re saying. Speak normal Japanese, will ya?”
Ryouko pressed down the button with her thumb. The energy gathered from somewhere and flowed into her body, and as she transformed into something different, she could feel a sense of euphoria welling within her.
Ryouko had transformed into a Zodiarts.
She was now more than two meters tall, and her entire body was large and pitch-black. She sad something like a whale, or a dinosaur, or some kind of large creature’s rib bones, protruding all over from both flanks. Kengo quickly checked the star line going through her body.
“That’s Carina…So she’s the Carina Zodiarts.”
The rib bones began moving, as if they were independent creatures. Kengo remembered what Mr. Ohsugi had said that morning: the sign looked as if it had been chewed on by a dinosaur. Right, if something got caught in those ribs, it’d probably look like that.
“Huh. You don’t seem too surprised seeing me like this.”
“I’ve seen quite a few people use those. Don’t get cocky, you’re not all that special.”
“Ugh, you piss me off. Whatever, I don’t care.”
As soon as she finished those words, she attacked Kengo with the ribs spread wide out. She looked like the mouth of a certain famous alien fish. Kengo scrambled to avoid her. Crunch! She crashed into a canned juice vending machine behind him. Rattle-rattle. A can fell out from inside.
“That’s some strong destructive power there.”
Kengo pulled out a soft serve ice cream.
Well, no. He pulled out a soft serve ice cream-shaped object, set up its Switch, and activated it. It was a Foodroid called Softy-nya, and it attacked by blowing wind at freezing temperatures. But Carina continued to attack without hesitation. Crunch, crunch, crunch! This is bad, I have to get out of here for now. Kengo was in such a rush that his legs hit a snag, and he fell over.
Carina was slowly converging on him. She’d been a normal high school girl until not too long ago, and now she’s a monster, and she suddenly wants to kill me? If I die now, there goes my university life in Kyoto. Okay, but seriously, Yuuki, why didn’t you tell me you were going to America?
“Hold it right there!”
It was Yuuki’s voice. She was out of breath as she stood between Kengo and the monster.
“Hah, Joujima! You planning on fighting me?” said Carina, menacingly.
“Not me. But our Kamen Rider will!”
“What? A Kamen Rider?”
“Hurry up! Over here, Gen!”
He had fallen behind, but Gentarou had arrived.
“Hey, Kengo. Don’t go off on your own like that, you could’ve been in some real trouble there.”
Kengo looked irritated, but he couldn’t hide his obvious relief.
Gentarou smiled confidently as he pulled out the Fourze Driver. There were four red Switches on the translucent main core and four extra sockets, each with an Astro Switch in it, making eight Switches in total. When he put it on his waist, he could flip them from both sides. Gentarou activated each Switch with a flip, flip, flip, flip, squeezed his left fist tight, and held it up near his right ear. A mechanical voice started reading off a countdown.
He cranked the lever with his right hand.
A ring of Cosmic Energy appeared above his head, and power started to rise from where his feet were. It strengthened Gentarou’s body from within and transformed it into a spacesuit-like form. Gentarou felt like the rush of power was changing his entire being. Ever since his first transformation, he’d felt the sensation of “space itself”. It was like the universe was being poured into his body. It was so exciting he couldn’t hold back, so he couldn’t help but yell.
“Here comes spaaaaaaaaaaaace!”
He had transformed into Fourze, with a head like a rocket and a white body like a spacesuit.
“You’re up for a one-on-one with me, Kamen Rider Fourze!”
Fourze rushed at Carina. Normally, Gentarou had a policy of never physically hitting girls. That was a line he refused to cross. But if the girl in question was a Zodiarts, it was a completely different story. If someone had used Cosmic Energy to physically transform themself into a superhuman monster, at that point, gender didn’t matter anymore. He wasn’t going to go easy on them at that point. He struck Carina with a punch full of all of his might.
Carina writhed backwards in pain.
Whenever he was Fourze, Gentarou could feel a sense of invincibility overflowing from his body, like he could win against anyone. Every one of his moves would get sharper and more precise, and he could put dozens of times more power into each attack than he normally could. It felt kind of like that.
Carina couldn’t handle the attacks anymore and started blocking Fourze’s attacks with her large ribs. She started attacking at the same time, trying to use the tips of her ribs to skewer Fourze with precise accuracy. It was quite a difficult attack to avoid.
“All right, how about this?”
Fourze removed the Launcher Switch from the Driver, replaced it with another Switch, and turned it on.
The belt played a special melody, and the voice announced the name of the module Fourze had just activated. Fourze’s right leg had been replaced with a light blue chainsaw module.
Gentarou started charging up, and the blade on his leg started turning with a screeeeeeeeech. He slashed at the attacking ribs. But although he managed to scrape a bit of bone off the surface, the bones emerged mostly untouched. The ribs were fairly hard, and repelled all of his chainsaw attacks.
“Hell of a lot of calcium there.”
“You really piss me off, Gentarou Kisaragi.”
Carina flipped onto her stomach, stretching her ribs out like spider legs. She thrashed them against the ground and rushed forward, using her head as a weapon. She moved incredibly fast, like a bull in a bullfighting arena.
Fourze activated the Rocket Module and jumped up, avoiding the attack by a hair’s breadth. Yuuki and Kengo both clutched their chests in relief. Fourze readied the Rocket Module on his right arm and launched it forward with power. It went up, and up, turned over in the air, and started plummeting. It spun as it plunged straight into Carina.
“Take that! Fourze Drill Rocket Punch!”
Gentarou had a habit of attaching names to his special attacks. The attack blew Carina back, and she crashed into the concrete block wall behind her.
“Gaaaah! What’s with all the arm and leg changing?!”
Kengo had a sense of pride at seeing Carina’s irritation.
“That’s just how Fourze works. Got a problem with that?”
Gentarou was already well accustomed to fighting as Fourze. Ryouko had been in physical brawls before, but Gentarou had practically made a whole routine out of fighting Zodiarts. There was no doubt he had the upper hand.
“Hey, Ryouko, are you feeling fuzzy ’cause you can’t figure out what to do after you graduate? Is that why you’re wrecking the prom and venting out your stress?”
“Huh? After I graduate?”
“Well, no, I’m just doing a bit of research for myself.”
“I already know what I’m doing.”
“Oh. Huh. Do you?”
“‘Course I do. We’re all about to graduate, y’know. You’re the weirdo who hasn’t figured it out yet.”
“Well, yeah. Yeah, I am. All right, what are you doing?”
“I’m going to vocational school. I’m gonna study hair cutting.”
“Oh, so you’re gonna be a barber.”
“Hairdresser. I’m not touching your stupid pompadour, though.”
For a moment, it seemed like the fighting had calmed down.
“But there’s something I gotta do before I graduate.”
Carina’s voice had gotten menacing again, setting everyone on edge.
“I’m blowing that prom to bits.”
Carina launched her attack and clutched Fourze between her ribs with a snap.
Ack! Fourze hurriedly set up his Shield Switch and turned it on.
The Shield Module had blocked the left side, but his right arm had taken severe damage. It was like being bitten by a giant monster. Owwwwwwwwwww!!
The attack was so severe that if Fourze had been a flesh-and-blood human being and not a reinforced body, he would have been reduced to a lump of flesh and blood. Fourze keeled over.
But Carina did not pursue any further.
“It’s not just me.”
“You’ll see. There are others who share my goals, and you’ll be seeing all of us soon.”
With those words, Carina ran off.
“All of them…?”
Were there more Zodiarts besides just Carina? Or were there going to be more appearing in the future?
Gamou and Principal Hayami were gone, but was there someone else out there creating new Zodiarts?
Was that their actual enemy?
Gentarou’s injured right arm was aching with pain. He also had a sensation like a lump of ice trailing down from his chest to the bottom of his waist. But it wasn’t pain; it was fear.
Daytime in March was still short, and everything was already dark.
It’s supposed to be spring, but it’s freezing. My hands and feet are cold and I can’t feel anything.
Sumie Taira was standing on Ama High’s roof. To be more precise, she was outside the fence, standing on the rooftop edge. If I step out, I’ll fall. If I fall, would I die? I don’t know if I’d die. But it’s definitely high up here.
Her heart was overcome with misery.
“There are people who are suffering because of this prom’s very existence.”
That day, a blonde girl had come to harass the prom committee, and had struck a nerve. She’s talking about me. She’s just like me.
Gentarou Kisaragi has got to be from a completely different species. “Youth is like a menu with both sweet and bitter memories”? That’s hilarious. I’ve only had bitter memories of my entire three years in high school. No, of my entire life.
She had always felt humiliated by the disparity between the idea of “a rich family’s daughter” and her actual reality. Her thick glasses, thin facial features, and hunchback. Her parents had picked fashionable brand clothing for her, but they didn’t look good on her at all. She had always been an introvert, surrounded by piles of toys and nothing else. Her mind, face, body, and living space were all messy and uncomfortable.
She wanted to find somewhere she could be more comfortable, but she also wanted to stay quietly and safely in her nest. Her hobby of making bottle ships could be said to be a direct reflection of her contradictory feelings.
How preferable it would have been if she had been born in a normal family. Instead, her father was a textbook nouveau riche who had made his fortune from selling used cars. Sumie trembled remembering the greasy face of her father, the creature she hated the most in the entire world. Her father had probably only made such a huge donation so that he could show off how high-class of a family she came from. Such obvious, blatantly revealing greed made her even more ashamed of the extravagance of the prom on a ship.
I’m scared of this prom. No, I hate it.
As she thought this, she suddenly felt the cold wind turn lukewarm. There was a strange, tinny smell. Was it an animal?…No, was it blood?
She turned around to see an unfamiliar student walking towards her. Step, step…
“Nnngh…who are you…?”
The girl did not respond. She had long, shiny hair, and a confident smile on her face. There was something eerie about her. Her eyes were completely hidden underneath her bangs. Her cheeks were wet. As she crying? No, those weren’t tears, it was blood. Blood was coming from her forehead. Had she been injured there?
“Your foolish little parents donated to the prom, but you don’t actually want to be there, right?”
She had gotten straight to the core of Sumie’s thoughts.
“You can’t stand it, but you’re helpless. You can’t do anything. The only thing you can do is cut yourself free from your own life.”
Sumie’s mind was frantic with thoughts of wanting to escape. But if she took a step, she would fall down six stories. Even if she wanted to jump off and kill herself, she couldn’t bring herself to do it in such a pointless manner. I really am pathetic.
“Nnnngh…what are you?! Who are you?!”
“You mean me?”
Is she a boy? She talks like a boy4, and her voice sounds like one. But she’s wearing a skirt, and she’s even daintier than I am.
“I’m a messenger from the stars.”
This person’s completely nuts! I’m done. I’m scared, I can’t take this anymore. As Sumie was being pushed to her limit and about to scream, she was presented with something black. Huh?
“Make a wish on the stars.”
Sumie suddenly felt a mysterious urge to accept the object.
As she was mesmerized by the strange aura she felt from the object, the “messenger from the stars” jumped over the fence, landed next to Sumie, and jumped off.
Sumie looked down in shock, only to be greeted with even more shock. There was no sign of a bloodied girl where she should have fallen. Or rather, there was no shadow or shape that resembled her. The only thing Sumie could hear was the roaring sound of a motorcycle fading off into the distance.
The lukewarm wind became cold again, as if nothing had happened. But there was undoubtedly a Zodiarts Switch in Sumie’s hand.
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- JAXA = The Japanese national space agency (think the Japanese equivalent of NASA). [↩]
- Since Japanese students must take off their shoes when indoors, schools will have shoe closets at the front entrance. Students will often keep other things inside their cupboard with their shoes, making them function similarly to lockers. [↩]
- Rakugo = A traditional form of Japanese (usually comedic) storytelling. This was Kijima’s obvious specialty during Fourze, and he also speaks like a traditional rakugo performer at all times. [↩]
- The “messenger from the stars” here uses the masculine-aggressive first-person pronoun ore, which is not usually used by girls. [↩]